If you’re like me there’s a feeling of dread that comes with walking up to a check in counter at the airport. Did I remember my passport? Did I get the aisle seat? Did my booking even go through? But it’s always ok. It always works out just fine. Until it doesn’t.

We arrived at the airport early. Really early. There was no line. We walked up to the counter and handed over our passports. She checked our tickets. Good. Our seats. Also good. But as she flipped back and forth through our passports, that feeling started creeping up my spine. The tingle of doubt. What is she looking for?

The trip we’d booked was two weeks in Japan, with a two-day layover in Beijing, and what the agent was looking for was a visa. For China. When she didn’t find it, she asked.

We smiled. “We don’t have visas. We don’t need them if we’re going to be in the country for less than 72 hours.”

Next came question about who we’d talked to at the Chinese embassy.

“No one.”

So where did we get the information?

“Um, the internet.”

I started to doubt myself. We’d looked it up. Both of us. They changed the rules in 2016 to allow travellers passing through certain cities to enter without a visa. What we didn’t see, was that the countries you arrived from and departed to, had to different. The flight I’d booked had a layover – in Tokyo. We didn’t qualify. We needed visas, and they take at least a month to get. Oops.

She looked at us apologetically. The tickets were non-refundable. We had hotels booked. Now what?

While the agent went back to the office to make some calls, we dialed the customer help line for our booking. Could we just get off the plane in Tokyo? Nope. Miss a flight and they’ll cancel the rest of your ticket. A one-way flight back in two weeks would cost more per person than our original tickets combined.

After a half hour on hold, the news was no good. We were close to the departure – 45 minutes and counting. There was nothing they could do. Cue the agent.

She emerged from behind the counter with a post it. There were numbers on it. They weren’t small. We’d get on a plane today, but a few dollars lighter.

As she headed back to the office to complete the purchase, I cancelled the three-night hotel reservation in Beijing (yes, that cost me too) and J returned to currency exchange he’d hit on the way in. We wouldn’t need that Chinese yuan after all. With new tickets in hand, we breezed through security. Kidding. My bag got selected for a secondary screening because of course it did.

There was one more thing to do – book a last-minute hotel in Tokyo. What had taken me weeks to research for the rest of our trip would now need to be done on my phone while standing in line to board our flight. I scrolled through listings, trying to remember the places I’d almost picked. Was this one close to the train? Didn’t that one get the terrible reviews? It was all a blur.

As I hit ‘book now’ on one that would end being in a decent location, but contain the foulest smelling bathroom we’ve ever encountered, they called our section. We’d be in Tokyo ten hours from now. Palms sweaty and a little shell shocked I flashed my passport and walked those final few feet to the plane.

There’s one truth when it comes to travelling. The only difference between and ordeal and an adventure is attitude.

I’ll have a series of stories on the rest of the trip over the coming weeks. I hope you’ll check back.